Conclusion of our Three Part Series :
IT ENDS IN A WHIMPER (FOR NOW)
According the Minutes of December 12th, the “historic” joint meeting of the OCA’s Synod of Bishops and Metropolitan Council began with a "bang" of decisive action by the Council. According to the Minutes of December 13th, it petered out in a whimper of hierarchical indecision concerning the Alaska Land Accounts. But the final words of Fr. John Reeves recorded in the Minutes presage battles to come.
Following an 8AM Liturgy for the Feast of St. Herman, prayers for the late Archbishop Kiprian and Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, and after a common brunch, the joint session of the Synod of Bishops and the Metropolitan Council resumed at the East Norwich Inn at 10:30 AM on December 13th.
The Minutes continue:
“Open Items for Discussion
15th All-American Council
Discussion continued to determine when to host the 15th All-American Council.
Motion made by Father John Onofrey
Father John Onofrey made a motion that: “After careful consideration, it was decided by the join session of the Holy Synod of Bishops and Metropolitan Council that it would be impractical to host the 15th All-American in 2007, and therefore the 15th All-American Council will be held in 2008, at a location to be determined.
Mr Peter Bohlender seconded the motion. Discussion followed. The motion carried.”
No matter how short in duration, limited in scope, restricted in participation and delayed in time the Metropolitan may desire the next All-American Council to be, it is going to be interesting to see what develops, given no funds were allocated for preparations for a 2008 Council in the OCA’s 2007 budget. Clearly, if the budget reflects priorities, an
All-American Council is not one.
There followed a brief discussion of housing allowances for Syosset staff to fulfill IRS requirements.
The Minutes continue:
"Investments and Accounts
A discussion on the topic of investments and annuities followed, to insure the Finance Committee reviews and determines possibile consolidation and best use in the interest of the present financial resources of the Church.
Martin Drive Property
A discussion about the Martin Drive property was held to determine what must be done to either rent or sell the property.
Motion made by Gregory Nescott
Attorney Gregory Nescott made a motion that: “The Metropolitan Council take the necessary steps to sell the property located at 216 Martin Drive, Syosset, NY.”
Dr. Faith Skordinski seconded the motion.
Discussion followed and included the stipulation that the Secretary and the Finance Committee are to oversee the process leading to the sale of the Martin Drive property when and as appropriate.
The motion carried.”
When it wishes, Syosset can move quickly. The Martin Drive property has been on the market since the beginning of February, listed with Coach Realtors, the largest independent real estate company on Long Island, for $595,000. (You can find the listing here.)
The Minutes continue:
A discussion about the annual appeals was held, and whether the annual appeals should be included in the budget as “money-in’/money-out’ items. The discussion also focused on whether or not to hold the Seminary and Charity appeals in 2007. Concern was expressed about the financial support that the Church needs to provide for the seminaries as well as those in need.
The possibility of having a line-item amount in the 2007 budget for each seminarian was considered. One proposal presented to the joint session suggested a future discussion to prioritize the overall needs of those institutions and organizations which make annual appeals. Another proposal for consideration is to assess the work of the various Church ministries and assess what work should be done on the local or diocesan or national levels, and which appeals should be nationally or locally.
Motion made by Father John Reeves
Father John Reeves made a motion that: “The annual appeals be continued in 2007 and carried in a separate schedule.
Fr. Michael Westerberg seconded the motion. The motion carried."
Given this decision, the OCA began its annual Mission Appeal on February 1st. At the bottom of the Appeal is the following note:
“After the restoration of $87,560.00 to the OCA Mission Fund on October 17, 2006 as part of the loan application to The Honesdale National Bank, $26,420.83 was allotted for disbursement of the 1/6 Diocesan returns and Appeal-related expenses for 2006. The final totals for the restored funds will be reflected in the annual financial report for FY 2006."
The long-delayed admission that the dioceses had not been given their 1/6 of the total in 2006 is welcome; as is the news that the diverted funds have been restored. However, what the OCA did not state is this was not just a one-time occurrence. In actual fact several dioceses have complained publicly and privately that they have not received their funds for years, not just in 2006. It is not known if there are any plans to return to the dioceses Mission monies withheld prior to 2006.
The Minutes continue:
"A concern by the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops and Metropolitan Council was expressed about the work of the Audit Committee elected at the Fourteenth All American Council. It is the intent of both bodies to take any necessary steps to insure that the appropriate checks and balances are in place so that the Audit Committee can operate independently and begin again to resume their work."
The Minutes' bland expression "A concern by the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops and Metropolitan Council..." belies the issue raised. As OCANews.org has reported, the Audit Committee elected by the last All American Council had not met since 2004; and then only to review the unaudited accounts from even earlier. (Read that story here.) No reasons were ever given for their failure to perform their duties; nor any reason given why they failed to find (or if found, failed to inform) the Council and Synod of the massive diversions of funds that was occuring from 2001 onwards. Some members of the joint meeting wanted the Auditors removed, others wished them censured at least - but the Metropolitan himself resisted all attempts to do so. As the Council and Synod must share some responsibility as well for failing to perform their duties fully, no one should be singled out for blame, according to the Metropolitan.
Since the joint meeting, the Audit Committee has met in Syosset at the end of December to "resume their work." No results have been published. Nor have the Synod and Council stated what "steps are necessary to insure the appropriate checks and balance are in place so that the Audit Committee can operate independently." Since Fr. Paul Suda, chairman of the Audit Committee, has reportedly spent a portion of his Florida vacation the past week visiting with Fr. Robert Kondratick, one step comes to mind...
The Minutes continue:
"Future Joint Meetings
The members of both the Holy Synod of Bishops and the Metropolitan Council expressed their desire to met on an annual basis. It was suggested that the date for the fall session of each body be coordinated so that the schedule of both bodies would overlap and give opportunity for a joint meeting."
In fact, the next meetings of the two bodies are scheduled to overlap in March, with the Council meeting to be held March 13-14th, and the Synod meeting to be held March 13-15th. This is a reform sought by Archbishop Job and others, who decried how the Synod and Council were so often played against each other during the former administration.
(Read the Archbishop's comments here).
The Minutes continue:
Alaska Lands Accounts
His Grace, Bishop Nikolai, the Ruling Bishop of the Diocese of Alaska presented a detailed report about his work in the diocese for the past five years.
Following the oral report offered by Bishop Nikolai, a discussion was held concerning a number of issues related to the Diocese of Alaska, and in particular the historical Alaska Lands Account. Opinions differ as to whether or not these lands, their historical ownership, previous sales and leases, and use of said lands are a matter only of the Diocese of Alaska or the Orthodox Church in America as a whole.* The discussion also included such related topics as: the canonical prerogatives of each diocese as they relate to the Holy Canons as well as to the Statute of the Orthodox Church in America, and the relationship, responsibilities and interdependence of each diocese in our common vision and work of our Autocephalous Orthodox Church in America.
His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman commented that as a practical matter, the legal ownership, the management of the land, and who should receive the proceeds from the activities related to the land assets, must be clarified.
The joint session took note of the concerns expressed by His Grace, Bishop Nikolai and His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman as well as others who were present. No further action was taken at this time. Appropriate documents concerning the Alaska Lands Accounts must be properly prepared for a future meeting before it can be determined as to whether or not the Alaska Lands Accounts should or should not be included on balance sheets of the Orthodox Church in America.
In short, the standoff continues. Bishop Nikolai can continue to mortgage and sell lands as he has been doing these past five years without reference to the OCA. The Synod of Bishops can avoid having to make a difficult decision that might impair their personal prerogatives and the “autocephalous” status of each of their dioceses. And Syosset avoids having to complete any outside audit of its financials as long as the issue remains open. Since there is no incentive for the bishop, bishops, or Metropolitan to change, it would appear that the only way forward is for the Council to seize the initiative at its next meeting and by virtue of statutory right, resolve the issue one way or the other by an up or down vote on who, or what combination of entities, owns the lands. If the Bishop of Alaska balks, the Council has the statutory right (and some would say, obligation) to initiate legal proceedings against the Bishop to defend the OCA’s assets. The alternative to action is an ever-steady weakening of the ties that bind the OCA together, and the collapse of any attempt at transparency and accountability as assets continue to diminish.
The joint meeting accomplished its major task: with near unanimity it established a means to move forward to resolve the scandal by establishing the independent Special Commission. It agreed new administration personnel were needed, and revised the process by which they are to be chosen. It agreed to sell the Martin Drive residence to lessen the debt.
It was less successful in dealing with other major issues - the 2008 Council which was left unfunded, the Alaska Land Accounts which were left undecided, and “Best Practices” which were left on the table, literally.
But a careful reading of the penultimate Motion in the Minutes suggests battles to come. The Minutes conclude:
"Motion made by Father John Reeves
Father John Reeves made a motion that: "Whereas, the demands of re-organization require the Metropolitan Council's oversight to the end such steps are being taken to restore trust in the Church's adminsitration; and whereas, many items discussed at this meeting are yet to be resolved, pending or in need of further review; therefore be it resolved that the next meeting of the Metropolitan Council be called for Tuesday, March 13th and Wednesday March 14th, 2007 at the chancery offices of the Orthodox Church
In America, Syosset NY, to conduct business regarding the same.
Dr. Faith Skordinksi seconded the motion.
Discussion followed. It was suggested that when the dates for meetings of Metropolitan Council are selected, the planning should take into consideration the travel needs of the representatives coming from the Diocese of the West as well as from the Diocese of Alaska.
His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, asked if there were any other matters to discuss. Being none, he asked for a motion to adjourn."
The Council did not just accept indecision. Rather, in a significant action, the Council itself attempted to seize control of its destiny by scheduling its own next meeting, and the topics it would discuss. Just as interesting, the Minutes do not record if the Reeves Motion was adopted.
According to the OCA website, the Synod of Bishops are scheduled to meet again March 13-15, 2007. No mention is made of the Metropolitan Council.
- Mark Stokoe
* Apparently the idea that individual parishes and/or the Native Corporations may also consider that some lands belong in full, or part, to them as well was not considered; or if considered, not worthy of note.